Chiara Atik’s brisk comedy, Bump, about women, pregnancy, and childbirth feels embryonic. Atik muses about birthing experiences through the centuries—where a flood of internet information about the process can be as terrifying as no knowledge at all. But in only 90 minutes we dash from bit to bit without enough collective resonance. Nevertheless, the inventive staging by Claudia Weill and warm performances by the ensemble give us some moments to cheer for.
Atik juggles three main story strands—Mary (Lucy DeVito) in colonial times in the midst of contractions aided by her midwife (Jenny O’Hara), an expectant mom internet message board, and Claudia (Ana Nogueira) who announces to her parents she’s pregnant for the first time.
We mostly stick with Claudia (though Mary delivers us the most laughs). As Claudia and her mother (Adriana Sananes) get more emotionally wrapped up in pregnancy prep Claudia’s father, Luis (Gilbert Cruz), finds himself drawn in from a different angle—problem solver. With the help of a YouTube video and upon tinkering in his garage he comes up with a device to help safely extract babies who are in distress in the womb. Despite him trying to mansplain childbirth to his own experienced wife and his mortified daughter, his invention, it turns out, has merit.
Bump is an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Science and Technology project. The Sloan Foundation encourages playwrights to explore scientific topics and themes in their work. The development of Luis’s invention (which is based on the real-life Odon Device created by a car mechanic in Argentina) takes up a good portion of the story and unfortunately it operates a bit more like a patent infomercial than a play at times because of this. The scientific and mechanical while curious are not as gripping as the relational.
Nogueira captures perfectly the loving but firm adult child in the presence of meddling parents as well as the sometimes-vulnerable child that adults can still be with family. DeVito and O’Hara get to dive deep into comedy as Mary resists her labor and her world-weary midwife must convince her to keep pressing on since she has no choice in the matter.
The message board women, named after what I can only imagine are the foodstuff that are given as proxy size for growing babies in-utero (Walnut, Lemon, Avocado), share their fears, furies, and flatulence. Using particularized lingo (“Unpopular Opinion Thursdays,” “What the Fuck Wednesdays,” and “Big Fat Positives”—familiar in a way to anyone who has participated in any message board culture with a unique vernacular) they reveal the tensions and contradictions so many women face when expecting in this era of online judgment (you are still drinking coffee?!). At first, this may come across as comedic parody of overzealous internet parenting culture, but as time goes on we start to see their community form and the necessity of that sharing.
Weill stages the online gathering in a simple window frame with the actors clustered together, rather than just dislocated voices on stage or projections (as other productions have used lately to represent the internet). This allows us to view these women as a group who over time get closer to each other as their respective bumps grow.
The women in all three scenarios reveal universal truths. No matter how much Claudia had read and prepared for childbirth, she’s as scared as Mary in colonial times who hasn’t a clue what she’s going through. Ye olde colonial forceps look not all that different from modern ones. Women’s trepidation and need for care, guidance, and support during the arduous process of giving birth remains true.
That Luis’s invention is the first advance in the field in 600-years suggests women’s health remains an under-served area of research and development. But anyone who’s ever had to put her feet in stirrups and met the business end of a speculum could probably tell you that. Bump doesn’t show us a whole lot we don’t already know. But we do get to meet a community of women and can celebrate in their joy and mourn for their losses as they make this journey.